|2046-02-06 If Wishes Were Horses|
|Location||Prospect Riding Stables - Brooklyn|
|Summary||There are horses. BECAUSE I CAN.|
It was cold in the barn, so cold breath hung in great billowing clouds. The horses preferred it that way, Rohan knew. Better for their respiratory systems, too. Still, it was a cruel cold to human systems, with the only refuge the heated lounge/tackroom, with the window that looked out into the indoor. It was probably one of the reasons the place was so empty, a vast cold expanse where soft nickers and companionable hay munching echoed against the roof. Nearly half the stalls were empty as is. The trail riding string, along with some of the privately owned horses, had been sent upstate for a rest and wider fields until spring came and the trails in the park unfroze.
“You came back,” said Jan, the trainer, as he marched by in search of the pitchfork. "Again."
“You said you need help in the evenings,” said Rohan.
She folded her arms and looked at him. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, wiry and weatherbeaten, all colour burnt out of her hair—remarkably like many horsewomen Rohan had known in his brief time in the world. They were practically standard issue, regardless of nationality. “You trying to pick up women?”
Rohan blinked at her. “No.”
“Half the men who develop a sudden interest in horses are chasing girls,” she said with a snort. “It’s a very gender-imbalanced world. You have another job?”
“I work in a Chinese restaurant,” replied Rohan, retrieving the pitchfork and wheelbarrow. The grey gelding down the aisle’d made a mess, and if he lay in it, it’d take forever to get him clean in this cold. It was always the greys with the filthiest habits. Or those with four white socks.
Jan retrieved a battered sandwich that was apparently her dinner and considered him. “Chinese,” she repeated skeptically.
“They seem entirely uninterested in my mum’s curry recipes,” Rohan told her with a flash of a grin. “For reasons I can’t understand.”
She snorted. “Long shifts?” she asked.
“Used to be,” said Rohan, applying himself to scooping the grey’s stall. The horse in question eyed him and then dove into his hay. “Then I made the selfish decision of not coming to work when I was a bit concussed and now the boss’s taking it on me.”
She unpeeled cling wrap from her sandwich and began to munch at it. “Where do you live?”
“Mutant Town.” There was no use dancing around it.
“You one?” Jan raised her eyebrows challengingly.
There was no use lying. He wasn’t going to do it any more. “Yeah.”
She seemed curiously unshocked. “Animal empath? I’ve known a few.”
“No.” He wasn’t going to lie any more. He’d told himself that. “I’m a psionic, actually, I find animals restful because I can’t feel their minds.”
She snorted. “First time I’ve heard that one. You going to behave yourself here?”
Rohan scooped some soiled shavings into the barrow. “Yes.”
“You legal to work here?”
Rohan thought about this for a breath and then admitted, “No.”
Jan only shrugged. “What Uncle Sam don’t know won’t hurt him.” She finished off her sandwich, and watched him. “You said you used to ride?”
“When I was young, a million years ago.” Rohan pushed the wheel barrow down the aisle.
“About five years, a little off and on.”
“Hrm.” She was watching him. “What sort of riding?”
“Did a spot of eventing,” said Rohan, hanging up the pitchfork again. “Little dressage, some fun across cross-country. Went on a drag hunt, once. But it was mostly a jumping barn. The trainer used to ride with one of the Whitakers.”
“I know who the Whitakers are,” said Jan. “Which one?”
“Can’t remember,” said Rohan lightly. He really couldn’t. All the top show jumpers blended together. “Maybe it was their little-known cousin Nigel.”
“Mmhm,” said Jan. Her gaze dipped. She was checking his footwear. “Go get Bucky, tack him up, and meet me in the ring. The school helmets are on the wall by the door in the tack room; take any one that fits.”
Bucky was a tall seal brown gelding. Thoroughbred, Rohan thought, with a delicate head and all the nervous energy the breed was notorious for, although he was on the substantial side for one, with . Rohan fumbled with the buckles, fingers clumsy with cold, and all his joints protested as he pulled himself into the saddle. The stirrups were a hole too short, he thought, but he didn’t trust himself to adjust them from the saddle.
Bucky broke into a canter almost as Rohan’s rear hit the saddle—a little too hard, he thought with a wince—and bucked, rear end flipping into the air. To his surprise, Rohan rode it, body moving with the horse, and immediately felt better. Competent. He tensed against the gelding’s canter, slowing him with back and stomach and thigh, and Bucky dropped to a walk—not with any great elegance, but with a twist of his ears toward Rohan that indicated he was definitely listening.
“He’s just fresh,” said Jan. “He’s not been out his stall in a couple of days, poor boy.”
Bucky was still stiff, his stride short. He felt jittery, tense, a coiled spring between Rohan’s legs.
It’s me, Rohan realized. He was tense, too. Nerves from riding in the first time in ages, yes. But also all that bitterness and despair, that tight knot his heart was tied into.
Let it go. Rohan drew a deep breath, fixed his gaze between those dark ears. Let it go. He exhaled and let the gelding walk on, trying to relax into him, his legs swaying in rhythm to his walk, back and forth, back and forth. Bucky dropped his head, and snorted, the sign of a horse that was, too, relaxing.
“Pick up a trot,” said Jan after several circuits around the arena. Rohan was relaxed now, feeling secure in his seat, and the gelding felt relaxed too, melting like butter against his aids. Still, the gelding responded to the faintest squeeze, head going up as he bounced into a bold trot, throwing Rohan out of his seat. It took Rohan a moment to remember how to post, up and down, up and down. It felt a little ragged, a little off.
“Check your diagonals, Whitaker,” said Jan.
Rohan let himself bounce, just once, and it was smoother when he rose again, the rhythm easier. “I used to be able to feel them.”
“You’ll get it back,” said Jan absently, and directed him through some basic exercises—circles, serpentines, changes of rein—before saying, “Okay. Pick up a canter now.”
Rohan’s thighs were already aching. The saddle was squeaking to the horse’s movements, squeak squeak squeak. He sat to the trot, and slid his outside leg back, just touching the gelding behind the girth—
And the Thoroughbred took off.
Rohan sat the gait, hips sliding to the beat. One two three, one two three, one two three. The cold air smacked him in the face and it was glorious, as glorious as skimming over the road on his bike, only this was with a living being, who responded to his every shift and move.
“Circle down at the end, and take him over this.” Jan was setting up a jump. Just a tiny one, a crossbar.
Rohan’s heart stopped for a moment. It had been a long time. He drew a deep breath, and turned his head on the jump, focusing on it intently, leading the way with his gaze.
Bucky’s hooves pounded against the dirt. The jump was looming up, as much as a crossbar could loom.
What was it they used to say?
Throw your heart over and the horse will follow.
He let Bucky pick his spot. He threw himself out of the saddle, over his neck, loosening the reins, and blindly trusted to this strange gelding. Bucky gathered himself up, and then overjumped, tail flagged, and hurtled himself through the air, a little too far to the left. Rohan landed heavily on his left foot, heart racing, and straightening himself hastily.
“Take him around and over again,” said Jan, who was setting up a second jump, not a stride beyond the first.
An in and out, then. One jump, bounce, second. This time they landed square and straight, and Rohan’s heart soared. As they landed, he broke into a wide grin, and patted the gelding with three hearty smacks against his neck, out of sheer joy. Good boy. Good boy.
It felt right. Like poetry, somehow. The speed and the soaring, and the two working as one.
“Go over it the other way,” said Jan, prosaic. “And then we’ll cool him down. He’s not real fit now, poor boy.”
The next was better than the first, swift and sure, straight between the posts. Rohan’s heart leapt with every jump. They could fly, the two of them. He and Bucky could leap tall buildings in a single bound.
“Not bad,” said Jan. “Cool him down now.”
Rohan let the reins slide through his fingers, up to the buckle and let Bucky put his head down as he cooled down, walking on a loose rein. He leant forward, pressing his cheek against the horse’s steaming neck, the scent of warm horse and leather mingling in his nose. He felt very close to this horse, their hearts beating in time.
“You’re very rusty,” said Jan critically. “But someone put some good foundations into you, Whitaker or not. You’ve got a good seat and light hands.”
“Thanks,” said Rohan.
“Can’t give you a full time job,” she continued, “but I think you know that. But if you want to come in the evening and do the feed, you can. Might be some riding in exercising some of the horses, but it’s the beginner mounts only and won’t be exciting. For cash in hand, you understand. Or lessons, if you want. Can’t vouch for what’ll happen when it warms up and the other horses come back. Might be more work, or you might get pushed out by our usual labour force of horse crazy teens. They’re cheaper.”
“But I see they don’t like cold much,” said Rohan dryly, straightening up. God, his thighs were going to kill him tomorrow. His shoulders weren't much better.“Each generation more spoiled than the last,” said Jan with a sigh. She glanced at him. “If you’re hard up for cash and prepared to get up early, let me know. I can put a word in for you at Aqueduct. I know some trainers there; they’ always appreciate someone to walk hots.” She glanced to the horse. “He’s wet. No leaving until he’s dry.” And she turned on her heel and strode off.